Here is the average American income by level of education

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Do you need to go to college to earn more money?

Key points

  • The income of Americans varies greatly depending on their level of education.
  • College graduates earn more than double the salary of those without a degree, and those with a professional degree earn nearly four times as much as a high school graduate.
  • Staying in school pays off. Even Americans with a college education but no degree fare better than those with no education beyond high school.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did not graduate from college but are among the richest people in the world. Does that mean going to college doesn’t matter when it comes to your salary? Gates and Zuckerberg are exceptions to the norm. They were both able to get into Harvard and had the knowledge to build their billion dollar companies. According to US Census data, not only those with more education do more, but the difference is quite startling.

Income by level of education

The average American with a bachelor’s degree earns around $80,500 per year, while the average American with only a high school diploma earns around $40,000 per year. University graduates earn more than double on average than those without a degree.

level of education

Average income

Less than 9th grade


9th to 12th grade, no diploma


High school diploma (includes equivalency)


Some college, no degree


Associate’s degree




Bachelor’s degree or higher


Master’s degree


Professional diploma




Data source: US Census

The difference increases dramatically the more education you get. Professional degree holders in professional fields such as law, pharmacy and medicine earn just over $151,000 per year, almost four times as much as a high school graduate.

Even the difference between those who drop out of high school and those who graduate is quite large. A high school graduate, who earns about $40,000 a year, earns over 40% more than someone who hasn’t finished high school.

Interestingly, even Americans with a college education but no degree fare better than those with no education beyond high school. The average income level for this group is just over $48,500 per year, about 20% more than that of a high school graduate.

It pays to stay in school

In terms of income, education really pays off. Your level of education is clearly a major factor in determining how much you earn. Data shows that if you want to earn a good income, you will need at least a college education under your belt.

But why is this the case? There are a few reasons. For one thing, college graduates generally have better job opportunities and are less likely to experience unemployment. They also tend to move into fields that offer greater job security, better working conditions, and higher salaries. Finally, college graduates often have an easier time moving up the career ladder in their chosen profession, leading to even higher earnings over time.

As you might expect, the income of the average American varies greatly depending on their level of education. A college degree may not be for everyone, but there is no doubt that it can lead to a higher income. Staying in school, both figuratively and literally, pays off. If you’re considering getting a degree, remember that it’s an investment that will pay off in the long run — both financially and professionally.

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